bees and beasts

October 27, 2011

Len Shelley and Angie Biltcliffe were hugely popular and influential figures with Hastings and the wider art world.  Both worked closely with Hastings Museum over the years, as exhibitors, guest curators and workshop leaders.  This exhibition celebrates their work, reflecting the profound impact their lives, and untimely deaths, have had, with an exhibition that will be of interest equally to visitors who knew them well and those new to their work. This paragraph is taken from the Coastal Currents web page on arts events at The Hastings Museum. Concise, accurate and with carefully chosen words – better than I could do myself so I hope they won’t mind it being lifted! The exhibition is now closed.  Angie and Len were close neighbours, warm, friendly and welcoming folks.This retrospective is largely based on Angie and Len’s working life during the years that they were together. Some have said that maybe a little indication of Angie’s art and making in the years prior to Len would have been useful to see but, her part of the exhibition was focused on her life as a bee keeper which certainly was her main obsession of late.

The Swarm (below) was the last work in Angie’s studio –  Jane Broomfield completed the installation and Angie’s description below.

‘One of my favourite things about bees is their swarming. It’s the most beautiful thing ever.
When you’ve seen a swarm and stood right in the middle it’s like you know everything there’s ever been to know in this world.
Swarms usually happen the middle of a hot blue day. The bees start singing, and their sounds get higher and higher and then they fly straight out of where they’ve been , like in a tree or a hive. Maybe thirty thousand bees. they fly round and round and in great big circles and their singing gets so loud and the air is silver and shiny and full of wings and honey and nothing else, and if you stand in their flying it’s like you can fly too.
Then it’s over, it’s just minutes but you’ll never forget it. They gather on a post or in a tree, all solid together like one huge bee and they’re so gentle and trusting that you can pick them up and take them home and keep them, unless they’ve already decided where they are going, then they fly away, turning to air right in front of you.’

Visitors were encouraged to write their thoughts on postcards . . . . reading these it’s obvious how Angie affected many who came in contact with her whether by film (videos played) or face to face.

The image below shows a small part of a sort of record of their work with children, communities – images and personal recollections . . .

Len hung some work for Art in Romney Marsh in one of the churches – this example shows his humour . . . quite ‘grim’ as he described it.

And a few examples of his boxed work. He worked with detritus found on the beach so all components – the waste of society –  were salvaged and reused.  ‘Collecting on the beach is what I wanted to do as a child. Now I’m grown up so I can do what I like’. Well, sounds as though he had to keep his hands clean when he was little! The characters were thought of as child toys and went through a casting process – shape of the head – closed or open mouth – angle of the eyes – all to give the right idea of character. ‘I like to think that people can look at the box and expect the character to move’.

‘The sea is a metaphor of time . . . it permeates into my dreams’

The box and the cartoon made before the construction I assume.

Len drew cartoons on loo paper  – Izal type –  the drawings came from snippets of stories found in the newspapers . . Spike Milligan would have enjoyed these . . . . I know I do.

Thank you both.X

Who screams first,

knife man or me?

Enough, I’m gone, 

pushing at the windows,

ready to scatter

through the sky 

like a rainstorm

another paper cup

drifting over the motorway. 

But the white ghosts chase me,

lash me to the bed,

wash me down 

in sour milk and urine,

and scratch a cross

across my belly 

Far above this fancy dress corpse

a honey bee flies,

casting the shadows of trees and rivers 

humming me the hymns of flowers,

and calling me

back to the hive.  Angie Biltcliffe  Hospital Bee.

the sea at pett

October 24, 2011

The road from Winchelsea Beach to Pett Level runs along below the sea defence so the beach and sea are completely hidden from those whizzing along in every day mode.  On the odd occasion I give myself a treat + pull in to park + climb the steps or ramp. Not being one to look at tide timetables, I never really know what I shall find at the top of the embankment. Today seemed like a day packed with chores and appointments so thought I’d treat myself . . .  first view is a group of visitors huddling down out of the wind  . . . it’s a big sea – great!

Foam, crashing, inky liquid . . . spray throwing out droplets in arcs of 20m . . .

. . . lovely, refreshing, invigorating and just what I needed. The day ahead seems not so bad and feel more like waving than drowning!

Nobody heard
him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than
you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart
gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not
waving but drowning.   Stevie Smith  Not Waving But Drowning.

talking urban landscapes

October 23, 2011

Following on from Talking Trees, we (staff and students studying Advanced Planting at MA + Diploma Level at University of Greenwich), wandered around 3 sites in the city to look at tree planting in the urban environment. At More London, the Quercus rubra appear to be suffering. Not surprising as the floor plane is packed with services, balancing chambers and large spreads of hard landscaping and all the hidden engineering materials and bases that are necessary for the support of tall buildings and general pedestrian movement. These Quercus should reach to 20m in an ideal environment and More London is hardly that. It is possibly the worst environment. The trees look stressed generally with one looking dire. There’s little space for the root zone and consequently nigh impossible for the trees to thrive. All the built items look good and well-managed – excellent use of water to bring a sense of movement and vitality in a somewhat dead environment. The Shard rises above – it’s all about architecture and that’s where the money goes.

A few paces on in Potters Field, a multi stem birch, one of a pair within the hard landscaping, showed the contrast with thin canopy and lack of moisture, to those positioned within the soft areas. Kids love these trees so they receive a fair bit of pulling and unwanted attention. Lower branches are often torn or damaged beyond repair.

This is what can happen:

In the Perennial Borders, seed heads and full autumn tones. Much discussion on whether this style of planting worked in this situation. At Mile End Park, a visitor, in the Arts area. That’s the first heron I’ve seen in the East End . .

This part of the park received favourable comments from our group as against the unkempt and distressed appearance of other areas – Green Bridge, water features and decorative terraces and the trees generally – all lacking in a reasonable level of maintenance and management.

At Jubilee Park, in Canary Wharf, in the heart of money land, we found a pretty good level of maintenance for this well built landscape. Considering this is in essence a roof garden, the trees (the deepest root zone) look to thrive  – Metasequoia glyptostroboides shown in these images and, also, multi stem prunus and evergreen Quercus x turneri – as do the twiggy plantings of Fagus hedging, Camellias and Osmanthus heterophyllus.

These grassy spreads of Pennisetum setaceum look quite stunning against the rather beautiful cut stone walls. I still love these walls 10 years on. An unfair contrast to Mile End but this park has a sense of magic and is functional to boot so the users flock here to relax, eat, chat, play and do much what they want.

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them
into paper, That we may record our emptiness. Kahlil Gibran   Sand and Foam

talking trees

October 17, 2011

Talking trees at The Hillier Wholesale Tree Nursery on maybe the last really sunny day of autumn. Lines of Quercus palustris waiting to go to a new home. Hossein Arshadi, director of the nursery, explains growth, management and all arboricultural issues to the students from the University of Greenwich. The nursery covers many acres and holds many species in many sizes from whips to super semi-mature trees over 7m in height.

Suddenly we came across these ‘celebrity’ items – reminded me of a chess board . . .

. . then lines of Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’ – extremely elegant.

Then groves of betula. These are grafted multistems. They reminded me of photos of Fletcher Steele’s planting at Naumkaug in Massachusetts.

And lines of Acer griseum. Each tree branches out individually . . .

. . later we went on to view The Winter Garden at The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and saw the acers well positioned to receive as much back lighting as possible – excellent.

And taxodiums and metasequoias and cedar casting reflections on the water at the end of the day. Spectacular.

I Go Inside the Tree – written and read by Jo Shapcott:

carcassonne and skywards

October 10, 2011

The foliage of a parthenocissus turns colour to acknowledge the change in season seen on the way from the ‘Ville Basse’ (new town) to La Cité (the citadel).  Too many people visiting here – too many to negotiate – too many  to blot out so I look skywards . . .

. .  and, in the distance, another wind farm and there’s quite few in Aude. In the image above, turbines form a misty landmark on the hills . . .  how bizarre – the visual interface of history and modern technology. My eye is caught by the gargoyle cantilevered from the tower . . .

. . .  and down near Place Carnot, two gargoyles seem to talk to each other . . .  time to leave,  and fly off above the clouds. Think and absorb.

Stones huddled on the rampart and men lived on moss from the stones.

Midnight carried a rifle and women no longer gave birth.

Dishonour’s aspect was that of a glass of water.

I was linked to the courage of other beings, I lived violently,

Growing no older, my mystery among theirs,

I shuddered with the existence of all the others

Like an incontinent boat over thinly-divided depths.  René Char Faction du muet

limoux – un beau paysage

October 10, 2011

Walking through the vineyards and then up into the garrigues landscape above La Digne d’Aval offers views to the south. The scrubby planting – holm and kermes oak, viburnum, cistus and sage, lavender and thymes – naturalises itself in a complete contrast to the ordered planting of the vines and olives. It’s an old path – well trodden by animals and humans – that follows the line of the ridge from Tourreilles and Magrie to Limoux.

The name carved on this stone is Therese Balandier Sabouraud, patroness of the village, who expressed a wish to be buried in the woodland at the top of the property of Saint Andrieu. Another relative is Jean de Brunoff, the creator of Babar.

Early evening, down in Limoux, the residents play boule. It helps to have a gauloises or gitanes hanging out of one corner of the mouth . . .  improves your aim . .

. .  as the light falls, the shutters are closed and it’s possible to enjoy the beautiful hinges.

There were some who lived in the dark

Dreaming of the sky’s caress

There were some who loved the forest

And believed in blazing wood

The odour of flowers enchanted them even from afar

The nakedness of their desires clothed them

They fused in their hearts the breath measured

By that slip of ambition in the life of nature

That flourishes in summer like a richer summer

They fused in their hearts hope for the dawning age

That hails another age even from afar

With love more stubborn than the desert

The briefest of slumbers

Delivered them to the future sun

They endured they knew that life perpetuates

And their shadowy needs gave birth to clarity.

They were only a few

Then suddenly a crowd

So it is in every age.  Paul Eluard  Faire Vivre

le pays cathare

October 9, 2011

Esperaza market is held every Sunday morning. It’s visited by hippies down from the hills and the surrounding villages, especially Rennes-les-Bains and Bugarach, which makes the whole event rather ‘deja-vu’ in atmosphere – apparently similar to Presteigne in Wales. There’s a simplicity about the ethos of ‘hippydom’ that sits rather well within the strong historical overtones or undertones  of the this area of France. Poor cathars, early christians really, secure in their beliefs and just looking for the simple life during 11/12C. were exterminated by those who called them heretics – Roman Catholicism and insecurity!

Remnants of abbeys and castles remain perched on hilltops for the best vantage point over the valleys below. The Abbaye de Saint Polycarpe, near Limoux, has frescoes above the central nave showing scenes from the Apocalypse. The building is modestly beautiful inside  . . .

. . . nearby but higher in the landscape of vineyards and woodland sits the Abbaye of Saint-Hilaire. The fountain is a relatively recent addition. There may have been a well in the cloistered enclosure and probably some herbs or apothecary plants tended by the Benedictine monks. The jets of water  – a metaphor – for the sparkling ‘Blanquette’??.

Roads and squares in the French urban landscape are synonymous with plane trees allegedly introduced by Napoleon in 19C to keep his troops cool! They receive a mixed press – a fungus is attacking this species planted in hot/ dry areas and apparently the trees are causing collisions with bikers – sorry, the tree is static and a thing of beauty – who however, is chasing along making a deafening noise and polluting the atmosphere?

Villerouge-Termenes lies to one side of the road. Park by the road and wander down the village lanes and breathe in the views of the vineyards as you pass on to centre of the small medieval hamlet . . .

. . . by the river that runs along under the castle walls is a Jardin des Simples – a sort of modern apothecary’s garden  – with an attractive explanatory diagram.

The curving street has just been furnished with small front gardens – plants are repeated in a random fashion but the scraps of planting offer up a softness that is very pleasing.

Troubadours, such as Peire Vidal and Ramon de Miraval, wrote and sang about the search for evangelical beauty and the ideal of love and courtesy – simple cathar ethics.

From love come all my thoughts

I only trouble with Love

And all that is done for Love is good. Ramon de Miraval 

Troubadour 12 – 13C

la pompe et le lac

October 9, 2011

In  Chalabre,  in the commune of Aude (named after the river), in the region Languedoc- Roussillion, the boulangerie looks quite distinguée – if a building can be described as such. It’s lunchtime so all the shops and businesses are shut – all except the eateries. Just in front of the boulangerie at the road side there’s a tall plinth topped with a vase.

The plinth houses a tap now but was the point of issue for the water from the town pump. A little history – In 1821, the town of Chalabre decided to dig a well in the centre of the town to commemorate the birth of the son of the Duc de Berry. A celebration was held too, following a mass, food and wine was distributed to the townsfolk followed by a ‘bal’ at which 1250 kgs. of sugared almonds were tossed around. In 1830,  a pump was fitted to the well engineered by ‘pompiste’ Jean-Ann Legrange at a cost of 1763 francs. Carrying on the same theme at a few kilometres down the road is a reservoir ‘Lac Montbel’ that sits between two dams engineered 150 years after the ‘pompe royale’.

The thick sticky clay marl holds the water. When the level is low, the clay sucks you in on entering the water but soon forgotten as swimming in the turquoise water is very refreshing – as you float the Pyrenees appear to float too, in the distance.

Versez du sang ! frappez encore !
Plus vous retranchez ses rameaux,
Plus le tronc sacré voit éclore
Ses rejetons toujours nouveaux !
Est-ce un dieu qui trompe le crime ?
Toujours d’une auguste victime
Le sang est fertile en vengeur !
Toujours échappé d’Athalie
Quelque enfant que le fer oublie
Grandit à l’ombre du Seigneur ! Alphonse de Lamartine La naissance du duc de Bordeaux

%d bloggers like this: